Random Thoughts at the Beginning of a New Month

1.  I turned on PBS last night thinking I’d be watching another episode of “Miss Scarlet & the Duke.” Instead, they aired a program called “Dolly Parton & Friends: 50 Years at the Opry.” I’m not a huge country music fan, but one can admire the career that Parton has had in a cut-throat business. She’s also had some good tunes over the years. “I Will Always Love You” is one of her best (although no one can sing it quite like Whitney). I also liked her duet with Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream.” Her best line of the night, referring to her many surgeries, was, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Ha! What struck me is how much of the show was taken up by PBS asking for money, even though they get millions of dollars from the government. And people have the audacity to say, “All the church wants is your money.” I’ve never seen any of my colleagues in ministry haranguing people so frequently or intensely to fork it over as PBS did last night.

2.  I got to fill in for a colleague last week at the Ephrata ICL. (I totally love being with that bunch—spiritually vibrant lovers of Jesus who want to go deeper in their understanding of Scripture and theology.) We reflected the whole time on the doctrine of the Trinity. I structured our material as follows:

  • Old Testament Seeds
  • New Testament Flowers
  • Early Church Petals
  • Church Wedding Bouquets
  • Missional Flowers Delivered
  • The Ultimate Rose Parade

The Holy Trinity is not a math puzzle to be solved (1 + 1 + 1 = 1); it’s a clue to the relational heart of the universe. That clue is precious to believers because the prime reality of existence is not matter. It’s not energy. It’s not quarks. It’s a divine relationship. Specifically, it’s an eternal reciprocating relationship of personal diversity and unbreakable unity. As the well-known hymn puts it, “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” Key to my presentation was the ancient rabbinic belief in “The Two Powers in Heaven” (cf. Alan Segal), easily demonstrated from the Hebrew Bible. That’s why the early Christians, who were true monotheists, found it both natural and noncontradictory to declare without reservation, “Jesus [not Caesar] is Lord and God and High Priest.” They regarded Christ as truly “Emmanuel,” the embodied “I AM” of the Old Testament.

3.  I turn three years older at the end of this month. (That sentence may require some explanation, no?) Because of the confusion surrounding my delivery, legal abandonment, and conveyance to an orphanage on day one of my postpartum life, I actually came with three birth certificates, all of which had a different date. One had March 30, one had March 31, and one had April 1. So, I have three birthdays! My adoptive parents were given the authority to choose one of the three for the official record. They quickly eliminated April 1 to spare me the teasing that may have come with that one, and they eventually settled on the middle date, March 31. They figured that if they were wrong, they were only off by a day, not two days. But who knows—I may have been an April fool’s joke from the beginning! The procedure is quite different today, but back then—in some hospitals where there was a pending adoption or conveyance to a foster home (or orphanage)—the newborn was never given to the mother to hold. And that was the case in my case. I was never held by my birth mother. Seeds of rejection were thus planted early in my life, and it would take decades for me to overcome them. Being adopted twice helped—once by my earthly father and once by my heavenly Father.

4.  Here’s a provocative article from the Huffington Post: “I Tracked Down the Girls Who Bullied Me as a Kid; Here’s What They Had To Say” by Simone Ellin, a guest writer. “Being able to zoom out and get some perspective…underscored that we can never really know what’s going on in other people’s lives.” It seems like many of us were insecure and easily intimidated back in the day.

5.  Now that the virus numbers are dropping, I can get back in the pool. It will be good to move around again, though I’m sure I’ll be a bit grumpy from waking up the muscles I haven’t used for months. Praying I still remember how to swim.

6.  They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. History is just the opposite. Jesus comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion.

7.  Finally, here’s a fun comic that may or may not hit too close to home:

Image Credit: gettyimages.com.

Random Thoughts in the Bleak Midwinter

1. Well, the decorations will have to wait (cf. #5 here). Slight sickness invaded the home yesterday, so out of an abundance of caution, we kept “Grandma” away from our side of the house to keep her safe. Consequently, our little forest of Christmas trees still stands. My son and I simply continued our Friday night ritual of making our way through the Marvel movies. (We both got Marvel pajama pants for Christmas—what a hoot!) Last night we watched “Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 2.” It wasn’t as good as the other flicks, story-wise, but the combination of live action and computer-generated imagery (CGI) is amazing. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to lumberjack the trees now, as Saturday is always a big prep day for Sunday. At least the sun is out today, though it’s frigid.

2. It’s interesting to see what holiday snacks remain now that all the festivities are over. In first place are my disastrous chocolate chip cookies. We didn’t set them out, and I snicker every time I see them, blushing and condemned in their hiding place. Time to toss them out, but I’m guessing even the birds won’t eat them. In second place are the smoothies—a mixture of white chocolate and butterscotch chips in little paper cups. I don’t eat them, but those who like them rave about them. (Maybe they lasted precisely because I don’t eat them. Ha! Actually, my sister-in-law made so many, there was no way to polish them off.) In third place are a handful of peanut butter cookies—but not the blossoms I made. My Wilbur bud creations disappeared quickly. A few other treats remain as well, but they’re all off limits now. I don’t miss the pain and inflammation that came with the carb overload of late December. It was a nice treat for a season, but it’s also nice to be back on a cleaner diet. Health goals—like business, academic, or athletic ones—require a lot of discipline.

3. Gotta share this little story—if only because “a little nonsense now and then” is a nice escape from the chaos and lunacy that has become the United States these days.

The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrel infestation. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded that the squirrels were predestined to be there, and they should not interfere with God’s divine will.

At the Baptist church, the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistry. The deacons met and decided to put a waterslide on the baptistry and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.

The Lutheran church decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creatures. So, they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist church. Two weeks later, the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the waterslide.

The Episcopalians tried a much more unique path by setting out pans of whiskey around their church in an effort to kill the squirrels with alcohol poisoning. They sadly learned how much damage a band of drunk squirrels can do.

But the Catholic church came up with a more creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and made them members of the church. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.

Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue. They took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.

4. There’s an old addage (variously attributed) that says there are only two plots in all of literature: (1) a person goes on a journey; and (2) a stranger comes to town. Here’s a golden oldie that seems to combine the two—a stranger comes and invades a person’s journey. For some reason, I woke up this morning with “Come Sail Away” by Styx in my head. I never really knew what the song was trying to say, and people still argue about hidden meanings, but it was a big hit long ago—part of the background noise when I was very young. So, here’s a throwback: 

UPDATE: I’m told that Mrs. Mosby just ate a single Hot & Spicy Cheez-It today and didn’t even dash off to her water bowl afterwards. In fact, she then went back for more treats. She’s definitely Micah’s cat! I may have to pick up some sriracha for her the next time I go grocery shopping. We could put it on her Mice Krispies in the morning. And if her mouth gets overly heated, she can always lick a very cold mice cream cone. O.k., I’ll stop now. Please don’t hate me. I’m just feeling spicy today. 🙂

UPDATE 2: And right after posting about hot sauce and spice, I started making an omelette for the patient. When it came time to put salt in the concoction, the lid of the container flew off and ruined my masterpiece. Even my mustard-seed faith couldn’t remove the mountain of sodium chloride and cast it into the sea. Heavy sigh. Let’s see what I can accomplish next with the sugar in the house. Ha! Nothing like getting the whole range of flavors in one day…sugar and spice! LOL.

Image Credit: wallpaperaccess.com.

Random Thoughts at the Close of a Challenging Year

“I played my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum.” 


1. Christmas Day has passed, and members of the extended family have all returned home. The house is quieter now (always a delight to us introverts, though still a bit depressing after all the excitement), but the Christmas season continues through January 5 on the liturgical calendar. Epiphany Day is Wednesday, January 6, and the season after the Epiphany extends through February 16, which is the day before Lent begins. Normally we would leave our decorations up and have an Epiphany Party for church members and the neighbors, but the virus makes gathering a real problem right now, so I’m not sure when the decorations will go back into hibernation.

2. The general theme of the Epiphany and the season that follows is Jesus’ manifestation of himself as deity. (The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “manifestation” or “appearance”). In lectionary churches, Bible readings and sermons during this time of year typically deal with Jesus’ identity. In the eastern Church, Epiphany commemorates the baptism of Christ. In the western Church, Epiphany commemorates the natal star and the arrival of the Magi, with the following week focusing on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. So, there is much for believers to look forward to, and any post-holiday spirits that are flagging can be reinvigorated by these great truths. In my experience, emotions can be like sine waves for many people (myself included); they go up and down in patterns, sometimes exhausting us in the process. Thankfully, Christ is the steady, unchanging “x-axis” that cuts through all the motion and commotion. That’s not a cliché; it’s an anchor for the soul when we’re feeling blue.

3. The civil calendar is fast heading toward January 1, which is New Year’s Day for most of the world. We find ourselves, then, living in between high moments. I suspect many people this year will be welcoming the calendar change from 2020 to 2021. That’s understandable, as a lot of awful things have happened this year. At the same time, believers are instructed to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). That’s easier said than done, but it does mean that God always has a purpose in the our pain.

Whew! We’re almost done with 2020. Can I get an “Amen!”? I can’t help thinking of the title of that Barry Manilow song, “Looks Like We Made It.” Just 14 more hours by the time this article is posted.

4. Yes, God is always up to something good, even in the challenges we face. And, of course, he’s always faithful to his people in the midst of those challenges. I’ve been thinking of Matt Redman’s song “Never Once” as I look back on 2020 as a whole. It’s a good reminder that God has never abandoned us—not once.

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

5. As I look back on the fourth quarter of 2020, and especially the month of December, I do so with a good deal of gratitude and satisfaction. It’s been a joy to put more time and energy into This New Life, establishing a number of templates for future posting. I especially enjoyed preparing the articles I did that focused on the Incarnation—one of my favorite theological topics to research and ponder. I’ve never been a huge fan of “The Little Drummer Boy” song, but I’ve been thinking about one line in it for several days now: “I played my best for him, pa rum pum pum pum.” What do I have to offer my Lord except what he’s already given me? Absolutely nothing! Moreover, there’s not a single thing he ever needs from me—a mere human being with faults and flaws all over the place. He is, after all, the sovereign king and creator of the universe; he has no needs.

But he does accept our gifts when we offer them in sincerity of heart—like parents who open a small, homemade present from their young children on Christmas morning. The parents’ delight in that moment is not manufactured; it’s a genuine response of gladness to the relationship, more so than the intrinsic value of the thing itself. It was the love with which the gift was made that sparks joy in the parents. I have a few things like that from my own kids, and they’re precious to me.

Looking back on this past month, I can honestly say, “I wrote my best for him,” seeking to honor and somehow articulate the incomprehensible miracle that is Christmas. Jesus doesn’t need my pen, but I gladly give it in service to him, as I can think of nothing more incredible to write about. My earnest hope is that he was pleased with my literary drumming. (And I hope it didn’t keep baby Jesus awake!)

6. Perhaps there is one thing more incredible to write about than Christmas, and that’s the other end of Jesus’ earthly life, where on the cross something truly astonishing happened: “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). When that kairos moment took place, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom—a highly symbolic and theologically rich act of God that will be the focus of my dissertation. My broader work on Israel’s tabernacle has been narrowed down to explore the significance and implications of that one incredible portent at Herod’s temple in the first century. What exactly happened? Why did it happen? Why does it figure so significantly in the book of Hebrews? What does it mean for us today? 

7. So, my research and writing efforts must now shift to that project during the first part of 2021. It will be labor intensive, so I need to disappear from TNL for a while—though not completely. I’ll continue posting a few things from time to time, but not as much as I have been these past several months. I’ll keep scanning my favorite blogs when I can (because I love your stuff, and it gives me hope and inspiration!), but I won’t be able to generate as much content for a while—just sermon summaries, classroom handouts, weekly songs in the sidebar, and occasional updates and fun stuff as time allows. All prayers are appreciated for this new venture, as I cannot do it alone. “No man is an island,” said John Donne, and he was right. So, thanks for your support!

I look forward to getting back in the blogging groove again after this major project is completed, and I can say with Jesus, “It is finished!” 

Love to all in Jesus’ name. Be blessed on your journey in 2021.

God will not abandon us.

UPDATE: WordPress stats indicate that my post popular post in 2020 was “Have Yourself a Snarky Little Christmas.” Thanks for reading! Much appreciated!

Random Thoughts for One Week before Christmas

1. Certain kinds of cookie dough are so delicious, it’s a wonder we put them in the oven to bake them at all. I’d be o.k. with going halfsies on each batch. That is, bake 50 percent of the lump, and then just eat the other half as it is. Or put the remaining half in vanilla ice cream to make a DIY DQ Blizzard. Either way, pray against salmonella because of the eggs, right? 

2. Our dough for the chocolate chip and sugar cookies is now mixed and refrigerating. Next up is the mixing of snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies, but I need to go to Lititz, PA to get some Wilbur buds to top off the PB cookies. (Hersey Kisses are good, but Wilbur buds are in a league of their own.) I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to restrain myself and buy only Wilbur buds while I’m in their store.

3. What is it about hitting the “Publish” button on a WordPress post that suddenly enables you to see all your typos? It’s hard enough to be a writer, but being a writer with perfectionistic tendencies is intolerable sometimes. Is there any medication for this disorder? On the other hand, if we don’t wrestle with our work the way Jacob wrestled with God, we may not be writers at all. Stephen King was right when he said, “Some stories cry out to be told in such loud voices that you write them just to shut them up.” But that means our first drafts will always be messy. Just like the kitchen when we’re making Christmas cookies. So what? The payoff is right around the corner, so go ahead and make a jolly mess!

4. Speaking of writing, the metaphor I use for my own process is “sculpture.” I plop down some clay and then keep turning it and chiseling it until I see something resembling what I’m trying to say. It takes a lot of work and patience to smooth out the rough edges. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all, so I just wad up the lump and start over. To my fellow writers honing your craft, this is tough, so you have my admiration. The key is to get started. As James Thurber once said, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” We can always go back and polish it later. Likewise, Margaret Atwood has said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” So, blob it down and then start chiseling. 

5. A lawyer friend of mine thought I overstated my case when I claimed that Shiphrah and Puah lied to Pharoah about why they didn’t throw the Hebrew boys into the Nile, and God seemed o.k. with it. I pushed back on the pushback, arguing that the contents of what the women said may have been true as far as it went, but they weren’t completely forthright with the Egyptian king when he asked them why they defied his edict. The real reason they didn’t kill the babies was because “they feared the Lord” (Exod 1:17). In other words, they didn’t tell Pharaoh “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” something I don’t think I could get away with in a courtroom.

6. That conversation by text led to a fascinating exchange about Rahab, too, so I raised the question: Since disinformation is a tool of national security, can a conscientious Christian work for the CIA? Similarly, what about people hiding Jews in their homes during the Holocaust and denying it to the authorities? Are deceptions like that ever morally justified? If not, why all the accolades in Scripture for Rahab? I’m still processing this myself, and we’re going to hash it out together over dinner next year. There are difficult and intertwining questions in both of these ethical conundrums. Each of us is open to persuasion, and we both appreciate the sharpening.

7. Michael Bruce (1746-1767) was a Scottish poet and hymn writer. He had a good word that might apply to anyone who may be experiencing a blue Christmas this year: “In every pang that rends the heart / the Man of Sorrows has a part; / he sympathizes with our grief, / and to the sufferer sends relief.” May it be so for those who are hurting right now.

8. I’m not sure I’m a fan of online learning for elementary school children. When they grow up and become parents themselves, they won’t be able to tell their children they had to walk up hill to school. Both ways. In the snow. During a blizzard. In sub-zero temperatures. Sheesh, no one should ever be deprived of the opportunity to share that boast with their children.

9. Dave Rubin has an interesting idea: “Suspend the salaries of all politicians until the country re-opens. We’ll be open in five minutes.” I’ll just leave that here.

10. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Every time I get frustrated living with someone who has it, I start thinking about how much harder it must be for the person who actually has the condition. We’re doing the best we can, and God is giving us daily grace. It’s part of my spiritual formation, but it can be challenging. “Breath of heaven hold me together.” 

11. Albert Schweitzer gave the world a lot to think about. While there’s plenty of stuff in his theological corpus I couldn’t endorse, I can wholeheartedly amen this sentiment: “At times our own light goes out / And is rekindled by a spark from another person. / Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude / Of those who have lighted the flame within us.” A few precious faces come to mind in this regard, and I am grateful for each one.

12. Santa has come to our house already, but baby Jesus has not. That’s by design. Only one more week until we celebrate (again) the birth of Immanuel, “God with us.”

Be blessed and have a great weekend! 

Random Thoughts from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Spent a lovely day at Wrightsville Beach today, reading and relaxing one last time before the next dissertation “push” consumes my life. The crisp, gentle breeze and bright sunshine made for a lovely outing. Here are some random ruminations with no rhyme or reason—just some nuggets that wafted in and out, sort of like the waves at my feet.

1.  Walking on the sand always reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham, “So shall your descendants be.” That metaphor was all around me today. He is faithful as far as the eye could see—and then beyond. I may have to do some stargazing tonight and celebrate the same truth (cf. Gen 15:5, 22:17, 26:4, etc.). Apparently there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand (roughly 7.5 x 1018 vs. 1 x 1022). Either way, the message is clear: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24).

2.  Scrunching my toes in the sand reminded me of those swimming training trips we used to take in college. Whether it was in Florida or St. Croix, our days consisted of triple sessions, with the middle block of agony featuring long runs on the beach. Running on the sand is a lot more difficult than running on hard surfaces. Those jaunts were grueling, and I don’t miss them. Then again, I do miss having chiseled calves.

3.  I also miss those days when the media were (mostly) honest and evenhanded. Indeed, there was a time when our national news outlets were content to be our eyes and ears on the events of the day. Now they try to be our brains, too, telling us what to think. No thank you. We can do that ourselves. Who do you think you are? You’ve done more to polarize our country than any politician. And now you’re playing censorship games to aid and abet certain candidates. This is a flagrant corruption of journalism. Knock it off.

4.  The undulating waves reminded me of Enya’s song, “The Humming,” a clever musical reflection on the cycles of the universe. The ending (“Then all of this begins again”) makes me think of the references to nature in Ecclesiastes chapter 1. There’s a rhythm to the cosmos. A pulse. And, more importantly, a story. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” said King David. As Max Lucado put it, “Nature is God’s first missionary.”

5.  I started re-reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, which is a good and necessary corrective to those branches of the faith that have been so modernized as to be devoid of anything supernatural. Kudos to him for helping the church rediscover, as Hamlet put it, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

6.  I polished off a bag of Mint Milanos, my favorite non-homemade cookie. I mentioned that fact in class two weeks ago—just in passing—and this past week a bag magically appeared in my classroom. How kind of that particular student. (She’s an auditor, so there’s no possibility of grade inflation in this case!) And how kind of the Lord to give us taste buds, especially when flavors like chocolate and mint can swirl together inside a cookie. And then inside my mouth.

7.  Speaking of cookies, it’s probably time to mortify the flesh a bit. Chiseled calves don’t come easily. Likewise, I should probably finish my Alias binge this weekend, too. Dissertations don’t write themselves. The road ahead is long and lonely. I trust it will also be rewarding.

Enjoy the journey!